The Theory of Abraham Maslow Part 2: The 15 Characteristics of Self-Actualised People

According to famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow, a human is optimally developed if they reach the level of self-actualization. This means they are in the process of developing all their potential and abilities to the fullest. But what does it actually mean to be a self-actualized person? In order to answer this question, Maslow studied the characteristics of 15 individuals they he considered to be self-actualized. These individuals included people such as Jefferson, Lincoln, Spinoza, Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt. From studying the lives of these individuals he compiled what 15 characteristics that he though captured the essence of self-actualization.

Accurate Observation of Reality

Self-actualizes are capable of recognizing reality for what it is. This applies not only to human relationships, but to music, art, science and politics. They do not superimpose their own anxieties or idealizations onto reality, but rather, are able to take risks in their search for truth as they do not fear the unknown.


Self-acceptance, accepting other and human nature

Because self-actualizes are able to observe reality more clearly, they are able to recognize human nature for what is rather than what they would like it to be. Just as they accept themselves, they accept others unconditionally.


Spontaneity, simplicity and naturalness

Self-actualizes live life authentically, without superficiality or pretense. They often behave in an unconventional and spontaneous way when revealing their thoughts and emotions, but never intend to hurt or harm themselves or others. They do not allow rules and regulations to stop them from achieving their goals if they deem these rules trivial. While they do follow an ethical code, it does not necessarily correspond with that of the community.


Task Involvement

Self-actualizes see their work as a calling. They are not primarily concerned with satisfying their own needs, but with serving a greater cause and uplifting others.


Exclusiveness: The need for privacy

Self-actualizes enjoy isolation and privacy as they are less reliant on others for reassurance. They are able to disengage themselves from difficult situations and handle them with dignity and grace.


Autonomy: Being independent of culture and environment

Self-actualizes function independently of their external environment. Rather than being driven by reward or punishment, they are driven by achieving their potential.


Consistent renewal of appreciation

Self-actualizes do not tire of the simple and basic enjoyments in life. On the contrary, they experience them with the same delight and surprise as on the first occasion and continue to strengthened and inspired by them.


Peak Experience

Self-actualizes have often had mystical or peak experiences. This refers to moments of intense excitement and tension, but also of bliss, peace and serenity which open endless horizons for them.


Social Feeling

Self-actualizes are concerned for humankind in general and experience a deep sense of empathy for those around them.


Interpersonal Relationships

Self-actualizes have deep and intense relationships with others. They are deeply committed to their partners and prefer to have small circles of like-minded friends. Quality is much more important than quantity.


The democratic character structure

Self-actualizes are democratic in the widest sense of the word. They do not discriminate on grounds of class, qualifications, beliefs, orientation, culture, gender, age race or color and are willing to learn from anyone who is their superior in a given field.


Discrimination between means and goals, and between good and evil

Self-actualizes clearly distinguish between a goal and the means to achieve it, yet are able to enjoy the activity that leads to the goal in and of itself. While they do not follow usually follow religion in the orthodox sense, they have strong ethical and moral codes and have no uncertainty about right and wrong.


A philosophical, benevolent sense of humor

Self-actualizes do not enjoy jokes at other expense, but rather enjoy humor with a message. They are also able to laugh at themselves.



All self-actualizes have a certain kind of creativity, originality or ingenuity in their field. Maslow described this creativity as the ability to look at life like a child, in a fresh, direct and naïve way without inhibition.


Resistance against acculturation

Self-actualizes abide by their own rules, rather than those of society. They do not blatantly rebel against unimportant matters, but resist convention when it is important to them. They would rather operate from within the system to bring about reform than to launch attacks from the outside.

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